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Gender and Sexuality

Graduate Conference Series

This Graduate Conference Series is a well-established forum of all those interested in the historical dimensions of gender, sexuality, feminism and masculinity. We encourage submissions from Masters and PhD students, as well as early career researchers, working on gender and sexuality (broadly defined) from any time period.

Although gender and sexuality are the overriding themes of the workshop, we welcome submissions that consider how these themes can be applied to a broader range of historical events, periods, mentalités, people or processes. Most of those who attend the workshop regularly do not necessarily consider themselves gender scholars, but have nevertheless welcomed the opportunity that the workshop provides to consider the historical role that gender can play in even the seemingly unlikeliest of situations. 

The workshop provides an opportunity to present finished or work-in-progress research to a friendly and supportive audience of your peers. Papers are likely to be 20-30 minutes in length, but we welcome submissions for longer formats or shorter paired papers for panel discussion. The format and length are flexible and the paper can be given in the manner that best suits the presenter’s material with discussion to follow.

We meet in the Gatehouse, Memorial Court at Clare College, on given Wednesdays, for an hour from 13:00. A light lunch will be provided.


Fred E. Smith (fes40)

Katarzyna Brzezinska (

George J. Severs (


Lent 2018 Schedule:


31st Jan: Linnea Tillema, Uppsala University, Sweden

Sensuous women and total orgasms: pleasure as a project of self improvement in Sweden, 1960-1980.

In Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s, sexual reformers championed a variety of pedagogical programmes, all aimed at improving the ability of the individual, in particular women, to experience more intense pleasure in sexual encounters. The programmes were all centred on body-oriented, practical training, and typically included exercises in touching, breathing, moving, bodily awareness, and other sensuous techniques. I argue that these programmes were part of a new construction of sexuality that gained ground in the late 1960s, namely, the idea that sexual reactions could be "learned" and sexual experiences "improved" if only the individual made a serious and conscious effort to change them. To become a "sensuous woman" or experience "total orgasm", participants were encouraged to engage in structured, goal-oriented work aimed at transforming the sexual self and one's ability to form authentic relationship to others. Drawing on sexual advice literature, self-help books, and other sources, I discuss some characteristic features of these reform programmes, and the work on the sexual self and on sexual relations they encouraged. In the 1960s and 1970s, as Sweden became an international symbol of sexual liberation, these programmes played an early, yet important role in the configuration of late modern reform programmes more generally concerned with the individual, and with individual self-optimisation. As such, they contributed to the late modern conception of the individual as personally responsible for her or his wellbeing, happiness, and personal development, more commonly associated with the neoliberal turn in the 1980s and 1990s.


21st Feb: Rosie Finlinson, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

The construction of sex in Early Russian medical texts.

When one thinks about how male and female bodies are sexed, one tends to think about genitalia as the main bodily marker of sex. But was this always the case? This paper explores how sex was constructed in Russian medical texts from the early modern period. In these texts, it was not primarily the sex organs that delineated people culturally into ‘men’ and ‘women’. Rather, a fascination with the moral implications of bodily acts associated with reproduction—ejaculation, breastfeeding and childbirth—bore conceptions of ‘male’ and ‘female’ anatomies.


28th Feb: Bethan Johnson, Newnham College, Cambridge

Women and Patriarchy in the Militant Separatist Groups of Western Europe and North America During the Long ‘68

The images and incidents associated with violent nationalism across history are inextricably linked to virulent masculinity. There is such a certainty in this point that historians and theorists of nationalism alike take for granted that men are the perpetrators of radical political violence. This paper, which is part of a larger piece of on-going doctoral research, will push back against this oversimplification of the relationship between men and nationalist violence. Focusing on the militant, pro-independence movements transpiring in Western Europe and North American between 1966 and 1972—a period this author claims was unique moment in the arc of modern nationalism—it will evaluate the roles men and women played and were allowed to play in separatist groups. It will demonstrate how, despite espousing liberationist rhetoric, separatist groups during this period were extremely patriarchal in nature, and that their conceptions of gender dictated how they went about seeking independence. Through its analysis of these groups, the paper will acknowledge the precarious roles of women in nationalist movements, a topic largely ignored by the field, and disentangle the conflation of men and political violence by noting the particular definition of men and manhood endorsed by separatist groups.